Republicans and their interest-group allies are building a monumental cash advantage this election season despite Democratic hopes that redrawn districts could help restore at least some respectability in the GOP-dominated Florida Legislature.
Building toward a heated and high-priced Aug. 14 primary, GOP leaders are channeling millions of dollars from corporate givers such as Walt Disney Co. and its affiliated companies, Orlando-based Florida Association of Realtors and Lakeland-based Publix Super Markets to finance primary fights that could help settle internal leadership fights or subtly shift alliances in the Senate.
The GOP, which controls the agenda in Tallahassee and draws bigger checks from interests with business in the Capitol, is hardly alone in the cash hunt.
Out of the top 25 biggest political committees used to steer unlimited sums of money into Florida races, those controlled by unions, trial lawyers, teachers and Democratic lawmakers have spent $9.76 million so far this election season, according to data filed late Friday.
But the political funds of Republican legislators and traditionally GOP-leaning groups such as the Florida Chamber of Commerce, Realtors and the Florida Medical Association make up 20 of those 25 biggest spenders and have poured in $35.9 million so far.
Even in individual races, Republicans -- who control the agenda in Tallahassee and thus command outsized financial support from interests with business in the Capitol -- are dominating the race for cash.
In the Senate District 8 contest, Democratic Volusia County Chairman Frank Bruno outraised Rep. Dorothy Hukill, R-Port Orange, over the two-week reporting window from July 7-20, collecting $16,475 compared to Hukill's $9,700.
But Hukill has an overall funding edge of $287,711 to Bruno's $223,548 raised -- a total cash haul that ranks fourth among all Senate candidates so far.
In another local contest for a newly drawn Hispanic Senate District 14 seat in Orange and Osceola counties, Democratic Rep. Darren Soto reported Friday raising $15,550, compared to just $1,600 raised by Republican trial-lawyer William McBride.
But McBride has made the race competitive on paper thanks to a $205,000 self-loan he gave to the campaign last month. The loan gives him a total of $249,000 raised compared to Soto's $109,936 total. The district is heavily Hispanic and Democratic-leaning, but McBride is a recognizable face in the community.
"It's not really surprising since it's a tough seat for him to win," Soto said of McBride's self-funding. "However his self-funding keeps the match very competitive."
One local Democrat state party officials have high hopes for is House District 30 candidate Karen Castor Dentel, who raised $7,580 for the two weeks and $61,062 in total.
But to put the financial advantage in perspective, her Republican opponent for the newly drawn seat in Winter Park and Maitland -- Rep. Scott Plakon, R-Longwood -- raised just $5,360 for the same period, but has collected a total of $176,042.
Victoria Siplin, wife of termed-out Orlando Sen. Gary Siplin, raised $11,295 for the two-week period, giving her $104,369 raised in her Democratic Senate District 12 primary. Her opponent, Rep. Geraldine Thompson, D-Orlando, raised $8,270 for the two weeks and $103,527 total. The winner of their Aug. 14 primary takes the seat.
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